17 ‘As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Today we are celebrating All Saints Day, although I always like to include All Souls. It seems to me if we are not careful, we create at least two classes of Christian. One group are those lovely Christians we can easily describe as holy. These people will happily talk about prayer, they can often draw on the scriptures to affirm and encourage others. They exude the gifts of the spirit, kindness, gentleness, self-control etc. If we were good Catholics, upon their death we might be writing to the Pope to have them canonised.
The second class are the Christians who drive us a bit crazy because half the time they are hard to live with. They seem to find plenty to complain about, you wonder if they know what it means to love your neighbour. But occasionally that rough cut diamond of a Christian does something and we know that indeed they have heard the Gospel. That side of them does appear very often and with so many of these second-class Christians around it is no wonder many outside the Church shy away from the Christian Church. Quick to call this unruly mob, hypocrites.
At times we look in the mirror and we feel chuffed with ourselves, we know we are riding up in first class. Then on other days we look in the mirror, a little disturbed at our own behaviour and we suspect we would even be thrown of the second-class carriages. We recognise that like all our brothers and sisters in Christ we are human, we don’t live up to the calling to be holy.
But here is the Good News, you can forget about All Saints and All Souls as 1st and 2nd class. The wonderful gift from God is to be discovered in the incarnation of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. It is the grace of God, God’s gift that makes us children of God, it isn’t our holiness. In deed the gift is not merely to us individually it is to humanity as a whole. Even the work of the Holy Spirit in us helping us to embrace the gift and to cloth ourselves in Christ is a gift.
I guess though it might be another group that we think of as All Souls, those who have died who happily declared themselves to be atheists or some other religion. They may be people in our own family or living in our street, our friends form work. Some of them we might also describe as holy, not because of their prayer life or their knowledge of the Scriptures but because they too are kind, gentle, loving and generous. But some of them who we tend to not be friends with any more have become mean, selfish and unkind. They seem to have rejected God and anything to do with God. Certainly, these are people that we commend to God at their funerals because we trust in the extraordinary love and forgiveness of God.
There is a challenge in all of this for us Christians. When we recognise our human frailty, we don’t give up in disgust but seek the Holy Spirit to deepen our faith and holiness. Because once we have a critical mass of Christians who are gentle and kind, loving and generous we will readily draw other to Jesus. But even before that happens, we will discover joy ourselves. The blessedness that Jesus speaks of in the beatitudes comes from generosity even when we are poor and hungry. It comes from kindness even when we are persecuted. Not only do we discover joy ourselves but our Church community becomes a wonderful place to belong to. And because it is wonderful more people are drawn to belong and to come and know Jesus with us.
Our Scripture passage for today provide us with provocation to enter deeper into holiness. Luke doesn’t just gives us the warm fuzzy beatitudes of Matthew but gives us the woes as well. Daniel doesn’t just promise that “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever.” Daniel holds up the four empires of the Middle East as beast that will be destroyed. Woe to us if we are well off now, if we have plenty to eat, have reason to laugh and are spoken well off. We are part of one of the great empires of world history, perhaps by default. I think of it as the English-speaking people’s empire. We benefit from the British empire as it was and the American empire.
Most of us, I suspect, are able to have plenty of food and wine and laughter at our gatherings, and we are well spoken off in the community. Jesus says, woe to us. He doesn’t say we are cursed or damned. But be careful if we rely on our health, our income, the international economy or the rules-based relationships between nations or even just good clean air and water. When we rely too heavily on things that can collapse in an instant we are in for a shock. Jesus and the prophets generally seem to look at the world with glasses that turn everything upside down. The Song of Mary captures this well, God lifts up the lowly and sends the rich away empty.
The good news is that as we enter into the wonderful gift from God it becomes easier to let go of the things the world holds dear. We discover joy in simple things, we have the love of God deep within us and our life is one of hope. In this joyful life it is easier to reach out with generosity to our neighbour, and to share the small abundance we have with those who have less. Our prayers become more silent than wordy trusting that God knows our needs. And when we do pray for the needs of others or our own our prayers seem to be answered more readily.
So, as we celebrate the feast of All Saints I invite you to willing and joyfully enter deeper into holiness. Discover there the joys that bubble up. Help to grow a wonderful Christian community that will draw more and more people into the presence of our Lord Jesus. So that, they too might discover his gift of love.